How to brew ginger beer

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

A guide to brewing alcoholic ginger beer

Despite what many recipe sites on the internet may claim, there is a significant difference between ginger ale and ginger beer. While ginger ale is simply carbonated water flavored with ginger, ginger beer is a more complex, fermented drink made from ginger spice, yeast, and sugar.

One key distinction between the two is that ginger ale is not brewed, whereas ginger beer undergoes a fermentation process similar to that of beer. This results in an alcoholic beverage that boasts a unique flavor profile.

If you're interested in making your own ginger beer, the process is relatively simple. You'll need to ferment a mixture of water, brewer's or baker's yeast, ginger, and sugar for a week or longer, adding sugar daily to increase the alcohol content. Once the mixture is concentrated, it should be strained, diluted with water and lemon juice, and then bottled.

how to brew alcoholic ginger beer

How to make alcoholic ginger beer

Here's a stock standard recipe:
  • 2kg ginger
  • 1 kg brown sugar
  • 1/2 kg castor sugar
  • 2 limes
  • 1 orange
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • Use an 'ale' style yeast

This DIY recipe will make 5 gallons of hard ginger beer - simply add the ingredients to your water (which is in a clean, sanitized vessel, a standard beer brewing fermenter or carboy is fine!).

You'll want to shred the ginger in a food processor and then juice your lemon and limes if you're adding them.

Feed the brew a little sugar twice a day for three days to feed the brew and allow the yeast something to feed on. The more you do this, the higher the ABV your brew will be.

If you want to 'brew' your ginger beer in a more traditional beer-making sense:

You need to bring your ginger to the boil in a boiling kettle - add the ginger and sugar when the 5 gallons of water is boiling. You can put the ginger in a mesh bag if you like - this will mean fewer bits of it in your final product, making for a clear poor.

Boil your ginger wort for about 60 minutes, watching to ensure you don't get a boil-over (this is less likely than with a grain boil, however).

While you're doing the boil, take the time to sanitize your carboy or fermenting drum. I like to use sodium percarbonate, it's cheap and does the job well. Many brewers will use tried and true Star San.

If you are serious about ginger beer clarity, then add some Whirfloc tablets (Irish moss) into your wort just before the end of the boil. Don't add it early or the effectiveness of the Whirlfloc will be reduced.

If you have the equipment, it's time to cool your wort using a counterflow or an immersion coil - this is good for the beer how, if you don't you can simply transfer your wort to your fermenter and let it cool naturally to room temperature.

When your wort is at a room temperature, you can pitch your yeast. It is important that your ginger wort is cool as a hot boiling wort will kill the yeast, meaning fermentation will not occur.

You can then let the ginger beer ferment for at least a week. If you are keen, take readings with a hydrometer so you can work out the final gravity and thus ABV of your ginger beer.

After that week, you can bottle but as with making beer, we'd let it sit for a bit longer to let the yeast do its thing. This increases the chances of any odd off-tastes lingering in your ginger beer.

Before you bottle, you may wish to sweeten your ginger beer. If you do not, it's quite likely that it will be extremely dry, making for a tough drinking experience.

root ginger

If you want to bottle and cap for the long term, pasteurize your ginger beer

Many a brewer has learned the hard way about over carbonation of bottled beer - gushers and exploding glass bottles. The same can happen when brewing ginger beer - so many brewers will use plastic bottles with loosely tightened tops to ensure gas release or tin foil over the top. 

But if you want to bottle and cap for a long term storage solution.

Once you've done your boil up of the ingredients, pitched your yeast, bottle & cap and let it brew for 2-3 days.

If you let your ginger brew continue to ferment longer than that, you're probably going to get some exploding glass bottles.

So, you need to kill the fermentation process.

Bring a large pot of water to 180F, turn the heat OFF, and add your bottles to the hot bath. Make sure your water level is high enough that it will reach the top of your ginger beer level inside the bottles.

What you are doing is pasteurizing your ginger beer. Let the bottles stand in the hot water for at least 10 - 15 minutes. Remove from the bath and let cool.

Your brew is now pasteurized and 'shelf-stable', meaning you can store it without fear of exploding bottles.  

Your beer will probably have a minimum alcohol content given it fermented to only three days.

If you are really worried about exploding ginger beer, you can condition in plastic bottles, you can also use campden tablets to halt the fermentation process. This does mean your beer will be quite flat as no secondary carbonation will occur in the bottle.  

What yeasts can you use to brew ginger beer?

To make ginger beer you can use brewing yeast or baker's yeast. That said, many homebrewers tend to use the well respected 'Safale US-05', ale yeasts or champagne yeast.

How to make a ginger bug

  • Add 20 grams of grated ginger (leave the skin on) and 30 grams of granulated sugar to a mason jar. Add 300ml of water, and place a cheesecloth on the lid. Store in a place where it will not get disturbed.
  • Over the next 2-4 days (until you see yeast activity in the form of bubbles), keep adding the same amount of grated ginger and sugar. Stir with a clean item to mix up.

Fun facts about ginger beer

  • Used in cocktails like Dark 'n Stormy and the Moscow Mule
  • Brewed ginger beer originated in the Yorkshire region of the UK during the Victorian Era
  • The ginger plant is sometimes known as "bees wine"
  • Ginger beer can be traced back to the 18th century, when it was first brewed in England as a non-alcoholic alternative to beer.

  • In addition to its use in cocktails, ginger beer is also commonly used as a mixer for non-alcoholic drinks such as ginger ale and lemonade.

  • Ginger beer has a long history of medicinal use, with claims that it can help with digestion, nausea, and even alleviate menstrual pain.

  • During the prohibition era in the United States, ginger beer was used as a mixer in "mocktails" as a substitute for alcoholic drinks.

  • In Australia, ginger beer is often enjoyed during the summer months and is commonly served over ice with a slice of lime.

  • In Jamaica, ginger beer is often made with added spices such as allspice and nutmeg, and is traditionally consumed during Christmas time.

  • Ginger beer can be brewed using either fresh ginger root or ginger extract, and can be made to varying levels of sweetness and spiciness.

  • Ginger beer is sometimes used as a base for non-alcoholic fermented drinks such as water kefir and kombucha.

Other interesting brews you can make are 'prison hooch', hard seltzer with a kit and of course the classic apple, brew, cider. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this recipe. I love ginger beer!
    Do you peel all that ginger before shredding it?


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